The Image: Hin Chua, "Boso Peninsula, January 2011"

Boso Peninsula, January 2011 © Hin Chua

I made this photograph in Japan in January 2011 by the Pacific coast of the Boso Peninsula. I remember waking up at the crack of dawn and stumbling into the nearest 7-Eleven for supplies before the interminably long two-hour train journey from Tokyo began. I still vividly recall my surroundings as I struggled with my framing by the side of the road. Colossal semi-trailers whizzed by with surprising regularity and unsettlingly close proximity, while above me, a squadron of Chinook helicopters on a training exercise filled the air with a series of resounding thuds. After a few minutes, I finally found the perspective I was searching for, made the exposure and hurried on my way: I still had many miles to explore on foot before twilight arrived.

One constant of my work seems to be that I always move on, both literally and figuratively. I find that in most cases, I have little time to dwell on or return to areas that I photographed; I just don’t have the luxury of the repeated visit. And so it was with this particular place, which subsequently passed almost completely from my memory as the negative sat undeveloped.

Undeveloped and forgotten till what is now known as the Tohoku megathrust earthquake and attendant tsunami struck the region two months later. Gradually, I felt compelled to re-examine the photographs I made there; I had the film developed and scanned and retouched many of the pictures. Much of how I view this particular photograph is now infused with the sense of uncertainty of what may or may not have happened there eight weeks later. I actively avoided thinking about it. Surely I was being the overly sensitive foreigner, desperately seeking to create dramatically tenuous connections with major, literally earth-shaking events? Surely this place was too far from the epicentre to have been affected?

Telling myself to stop being dramatic, I never checked, cocooning myself in the warm embrace of ignorance. Never checked until today when I began to write these words.

As it turns out, the area experienced a "peak tsunami wave height" of 2.5 metres. I have little idea what that means, other than it was sufficient to be classified at an orange level of severity. But I'm sure that nothing really serious happened here, right? I mean, that coastline looks like it could withstand a surge of 2.5 metres, doesn't it? It’s not really that big a deal, compared to the 10-15 metre peaks in Fukushima or Iwate, is it? How big is 2.5 metres, when you think about it? Not enough to really hurt anyone, right?

I still don’t know the answer to these questions, and for the time being at least, I don't want to know.

Hin Chua